While it may seem silly to ask such a question considering Matt Stajan produced 55 points last season, his role on the Toronto Maple Leafs is not set in stone.
Stajan, who had his best season as a Maple Leaf in 2008-09, proved to be a reliable two-way forward, and found his place among the top-six. However, many critics have pondered whether last season was simply a flash in the pan, as Stajan seemed to establish his role in the National Hockey League as a dependable No.3 center.
Prior to the signing of Rickard Wallin, formerly of the Swedish Elite League’s Farjestads BK Karlstad, the natural assumption was that Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, and Stajan would assume the center positions for the club—leaving the fourth line open for Wayne Primeau. Things change, and it will be much to the chagrin of one of these players
And if you think Wallin accepted a deal in Toronto to wither away on the fourth line you’re mistaken. The signing of Wallin was to replace the departed Dominic Moore, who served, quite adequately I might add, as the Leafs’ No.3 center.
That leaves the No.2 center position vacant for either Stajan or Bozak, whose skills are simply to advanced to play on the fourth line—which, by the way, will be a menacing line with the likes of Wayne Primeau and Colton Orr on the ice. Obviously, with Stajan having six NHL seasons under his belt, the position is his to lose.
But, let’s assume for one moment that Bozak’s play in training camp warrants a position in the top-six, and Burke is forced to insert him into the line-up. What does that mean for Stajan? Or Wallin? With Burke stating that he is not afraid to send players down on one-way contracts, would he consider sending down a player such as Wallin so quickly?
I don’t think so.
Burke has a plan, and this plan does not involve planting his lips on the collective asses of his players. One thing is for certain: Stajan, Wallin or Bozak will not be starting in the NHL this season. If it’s Wallin, who signed a one-way contract, he may be off of the Leafs as quickly as he joined, as he would be eligible for the waiver-wire. If it’s Bozak, who signed a two-way contract, he’d simply be sent to Toronto’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, where he could hone his skills and get some more seasoning.
If it’s Stajan, however, I believe he’ll be traded prior to October 1st—the start of the NHL regular season. And if that is the case, that would mean both Bozak and Wallin proved to be more valuable in their respective roles. And if Burke feels Bozak is ready to inherit the No.2 center position, and Wallin as the No.3, then I believe he will not hesitate to trade away an asset such as Stajan, who would still be regarded as a valuable commodity around the league.
However, if Wallin is a failed experiment and can’t translate his success from the SEL to the NHL, then Stajan could very well find his spot on third line. But if that happens, you can expect a drop in production for the 25 year-old.
But consider that Burke did sign Wallin to a one-way contract, which speaks volumes to the confidence he has in the 29 year-old.
It all depends on Bozak, who many feel could fight his way into line-up next season. If he does, then don’t be surprised if Stajan is packaged with one of the Leafs’ excess defensemen to acquire a top-six player.
Either way, this should all work in the Leafs’ favour. And no matter which player you’re favouring, it’s all for the same cause: a brighter future for the team we all love.